2 1-2 As a result of a revelation, I returned to Jerusalem 14 years later; and this time Barnabas and Titus accompanied me. When I arrived, I shared the exact gospel that I preach to the outsiders. I first shared God’s truth privately with those who were people of influence and leadership because I thought if they did not embrace the freedom of my good news, then any work I had done for Jesus here and any in the past would be spoiled.
One of the great stories in the Bible is the transformation of Saul, the Pharisee, from a persecutor of the church to the greatest missionary that history has ever witnessed. Seldom does Paul relate that story in his letters. He doesn’t need to because he usually does that in person when he is planting a church. But on this occasion, as he defends his call and the gospel, he retells a bit of his personal history to underscore the complete metamorphosis that has taken place in his life. In his former life, Paul admits—quite painfully, no doubt—that he tried to destroy this movement. Borrowing language from the prophets, Paul narrates how God unveiled to him the truth about Jesus. At just the right moment, even while Paul was an active enemy, God revealed His Son to Paul and called him to be heaven’s emissary to the nations. Paul immediately stopped his campaign against the church, which was just beginning to emerge from its Jewish roots and spread to the Gentile nations.
3 Listen carefully. None of the Jerusalem leaders insisted that Titus be circumcised, although he is Greek. 4 Some people who were pretending to be our brothers and sisters were brought in to spy on the freedom we enjoy in the Anointed One, Jesus—their agenda was clear: they wanted to enslave us. 5 But we didn’t give in to them. We didn’t entertain their thoughts for a minute! We resisted them so the true gospel—and not some counterfeit—would continue to be available to you.
6 It makes no difference to me (or to God for that matter) if people have power or influence. God doesn’t choose favorites among His children. Even the so-called pillars of the church didn’t contribute anything new to my understanding of the good news. 7 But it quickly became obvious to them what God was doing: He had entrusted me to carry the good news to the uncircumcised, just as Peter was called to preach to those who were circumcised. 8 God was at work in the ministry of Peter, as emissary[a] to the Jews, and was also moving and working with me in my ministry to the outsider nations.
9 When James, Cephas (whom you know as Peter), and John—three men purported to be pillars among the Jewish believers—saw that God’s favor was upon me to fulfill this calling, they welcomed and endorsed[b] both Barnabas and me. They agreed that our ministries would work as two hands, theirs advancing the mission of God among the Jews and ours toward the outsider nations, all with the same message of redemption. 10 In parting, they requested we always remember to care for the poor among us, which was something I was eager to do.
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, there was a problem. I got in his face and exposed him in front of everyone. He was clearly wrong. 12 Here’s what was going on: before certain people from James arrived, Cephas used to share meals with the Gentile outsiders. And then, after they showed up, Cephas suddenly became aloof and distanced himself from the outsiders because he was afraid of those believers who thought circumcision was necessary.
Since Christianity arises from Judaism, some traveling preachers from Jerusalem think that Jewish believers must remain true to Jewish rules regarding circumcision, Sabbath observance, and kosher food. If they rigorously follow the food rules, then Jewish believers are not supposed to share a meal with “unclean” Gentile outsiders, as Peter has been doing in Antioch. They advocate that Gentile outsiders need to follow Jewish ways and practices to become full members of the family of God. Paul—and the Jerusalem council (Acts 15)—strongly reject this. The apostle argues that it is only the faithfulness of Jesus and the presence of the Spirit that serve as the foundation of the new covenant and as the entrance into the people of God.
13 The rest of the Jewish believers followed his lead, including Barnabas! Their hypocritical behavior was so obvious— 14 their actions were not at all consistent with everything the good news of our Lord represents. So I approached Cephas and told him in plain sight of everyone: “If you, a Jew, have lived like the Gentile outsiders and not like the Jews, then how can you turn around and urge the outsiders to start living like Jews?” 15 We are natural-born Jews, not sinners from the godless nations. 16 But we know that no one is made right with God by meeting the demands of the law. It is only through the faithfulness of Jesus[c] the Anointed that salvation is even possible. This is why we put faith in Jesus the Anointed: so we will be put right with God. It’s His faithfulness—not works prescribed by the law—that puts us in right standing with God because no one will be acquitted and declared “right” for doing what the law demands. 17 Even though we are seeking a right relationship with God through the Anointed, the fact is we have been found out. We are sinners. But does that mean the Anointed is the one responsible for our sins? Absolutely not! 18 If I reconstruct something I have worked so hard to destroy, then I prove myself a sinner.
So why all this personal history? Paul thinks it is useful because the people preaching the false gospel in Galatia claim to be operating under the authority of some of the followers of Jesus from Jerusalem, the mother church. Paul doesn’t have their pedigree and, according to them, doesn’t deserve the rank he claims as the emissary to the nations. They say that not only is Paul deficient, but his message is, too, because it doesn’t bring outsiders to follow the law. So Paul goes toe-to-toe with them, defending not only his call but also his message. The good news he preaches comes directly from the risen Jesus and is confirmed by the Jerusalem leaders.
19 The law has provided the means to end my dependence on it for righteousness, and so I died to the law. Now I have found the freedom to truly live for God. 20 I have been crucified with the Anointed One—I am no longer alive—but the Anointed is living in me; and whatever life I have left in this failing body I live by the faithfulness of God’s Son, the One who loves me and gave His body on the cross for me. 21 I can’t dismiss God’s grace, and I won’t. If being right with God depends on how we measure up to the law, then the Anointed’s sacrifice on the cross was the most tragic waste in all of history!